Five for Silver: A John, the Lord Chamberlain Mystery #5

By Eric Mayer, Mary Reed

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The year is 542. While plague stalks Constantinople, an angel sets John the Eunuch on the trail of a human killer. Peter, John’s elderly servant, claims a heavenly visitor revealed a murder to him. It transpires Peter’s old army friend has indeed been stabbed, but then John discovers that Gregory was not what he appeared to be. Is the solution to the mystery to be found in a hidden identity, in the will made by a dying ship owner with a wayward son, or perhaps even amid the oracles in the merchant’s garden? John’s quest leads him to churchmen and whores, lawyers and bear trainers. Suspects include a dealer in dubious antiquities, a resourceful bookseller, a court poet fixated on bereavement, and a holy fool who outrages the city by dancing with the dead and invading the empress’ private bath. Only a man of unbending principle could hope to find justice in a terrified city where the good and the bad are struck down indiscriminately, where disorder rules, and where witnesses may die before they can be questioned. A city, in short, where death is the murderer’s accomplice.

Winner of the 2005 Glyph Award for Best Book Series. Nominated for the 2005 Bruce Alexander Award for Best Historical Mystery Novel.


"The year is 542. In Constantinople, the black plague has descended and is killing people by the thousands. The Emperor Justinian has left the city and his palace for his estate in the country, away from the stench of death, where bodies are floated in boats into the harbor and set on fire. The only thriving businesses in the city are wine merchants and sellers of oracles and good luck charms. John, the Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has remained behind. Mary Reed and Eric Mayer's Five for Silver, the fifth in a series featuring John the Eunuch, is a delight for fans of historical mysteries. When John's elderly servant, Peter, claims an angel has appeared to him and revealed the murder of a friend, John decides to look into things. Not because, as a devout Mithran he believes in Peter's Christian religion or the angelic messenger, but because he cares very much for Peter. He determines that Peter's friend, Gregory, has been murdered, stabbed and left to die among those dead of the plague. Gregory, John soon discovers, was not what he seemed. As John walks the streets of the city, he finds himself in the company of whores, lawyers, booksellers, soldiers and animal trainers, trying to ferret out the truth behind Gregory's murder. Over everything hangs the pall of death as the plague kills indiscriminately. The city seems to have gone crazy. The Empress' pet bear is running loose and a mad holy man--the holy fool!--is creating scandal by dancing with the dead and breaking into the Empress' private bath. When John's daughter arrives with an old friend, Thomas of Bretania, John's household begins to seem as crazy as the city outside. Peter, believing he has caught the plague, has locked himself in his room. John's other servant, Hypatia, is volunteering at the hospital and appears to have fallen in love with one of her patients, a man who also may not be what he seems. John is an intriguing character. A eunuch, he had once been a soldier, but he was captured by Persians, castrated and sold into slavery. Because he was an educated man, he was brought to the court of Justinian and put to work. Over the years "John the Eunuch" rose through the tricky and often deadly politics of Justinian's palace to become the Emperor's chief advisor. He is a man who wields great power, but is very cautious how he uses it. His own religious convictions, if revealed, could lead to his death in the Christian Emperor's court.

In Silver, the details of sixth century Constantinople are fascinating, yet so well-executed that they don't slow the pace of the story. Characters are cleverly drawn, each unique and individual, but clearly a product of their time and place. The mystery is properly byzantine, in every sense of the word, and will keep readers stumped to the final revelation. Written with bone-dry wit and unexpected humor, Five for Silver is sure-fire entertainment." --Mark Terry, The Oakland Press, 4.4.2004

"It is 542 AD and the plague has come to Constantinople. John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian, is begged by his servant, Peter, to find the body of Peter's old friend, Gregory. An angel came and told him that Gregory was dead and Peter does not want him to be put into an unmarked mass grave with the rest of the plague victims...John discovers that Gregory was indeed stabbed to death--murdered and not a victim of plague--but Gregory was not the poor ex-soldier Peter believed him to be...If you can find all the books in the series, do so. If not, don't wait. Start with FIVE FOR SILVER--you can always go back and read the first four. And you will want to." --Barbara Franchi, Reviewing The Evidence (May 2004)

"This is the fifth in the John the Eunuch series. The authors consistently get better at their craft. This mystery takes place in Constantinople in 542 AD. Emperor Justinian's Lord Chamberlain, John the Eunuch (rendered so by Persian soldiers when he was a POW), is confronted by his aged manservant, Peter, who has had an angelic vision that demands justice for a murdered old friend. The subsequent investigation is complicated by the Black Death plague, which is sweeping the region. Suspects and witnesses alike keep dying from the horrendous disease before John can reconcile truth in an atmosphere of intrigue where nothing is as it seems. The authors do a wonderful job of drawing the reader into a setting that is both alien and yet chillingly too possible for modern times and the threat of bio-terrorism. The one constant between the ancient days and today is human motivations~greed, revenge, jealousy, and love continue to be understandable, regardless of context. We rated this book four hearts." --Bob Spear, Heartland Reviews (April 2004)

"Reed and Mayer surpass last year's fine Four for a Boy with this superb fifth entry in their series to feature smart, determined and credibly human sleuth John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian. In the year 542, in the plague-stricken city of Constantinople, John's aged servant, Peter, has an angelic vision telling him that Gregory, a close friend from his army days, has been murdered. Distraught, Peter asks John to find the killer. Verifying that Gregory has indeed been stabbed to death, John proceeds to interview everyone who may be connected to the crime from lawyers to doctors, from prostitutes to a holy fool who dances with the dead in the streets, perhaps the most striking of several memorable supporting characters. Peter's falling ill and the return home of John's daughter complicate a riveting plot that never dips into melodrama. Not just a chilling backdrop, the plague that runs rampant through the city, afflicting rich and poor alike, is linked to the murder. The conflict between Christians and pagans adds further weight to this sterling historical page-turner." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

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